Hurricane Fiona unleashed more rain on Puerto Rico on Monday, a day laterPower and water were cut off on most of the island, and National Guard troops rescued hundreds of people who were stranded.
The governor warned it could be days before the lights come back on.
Fiona’s blow was made even more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 houses on the island are still covered with blue tarps.
The storm ripped off pavements from streets, ripped off roofs and sent torrents pouring into houses. It also destroyed a bridge and flooded two airports.
Authorities reported two deaths from the hurricane — a Puerto Rican man swept away by a flooded river and a person in the Dominican Republic who was struck by a falling tree.
The storm was still expected to drop up to 15 inches of rain in some places as it turned away from U.S. territory, which is home to 3.2 million people.
The storm is forecast to expand into a Category 3 or higher major hurricane. It was on a path to fly by near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday and was not expected to threaten the US mainland.
One death in Puerto Rico was linked to the blackout — a 70-year-old man who burned to death after trying to fill his running generator with gasoline, officials said.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declined to say how long it would take to fully restore power, but said it would be “a matter of days” for most customers.
National Guard troops have rescued more than 900 people since the storm began, General José Reyes said at a news conference.
Meanwhile, authorities in the Dominican Republic closed ports and beaches and urged most people to stay home from work. Nearly 800 people were evacuated to safer locations and more than 700 were in temporary shelters, officials said.
The hurricane blocked several freeways, and a tourist pier in the town of Miches was severely damaged by high waves. At least four international airports have been closed, officials said.
Dominican President Luis Abinader said authorities would need several days to assess the impact of the storm.
Back in Puerto Rico, the office of the National Weather Service said flash flooding was occurring in the south-central parts of the island and tweeted, “GO TO HIGHER LAND IMMEDIATELY!”
Up to 22 inches of rain fell in some areas of Puerto Rico, and forecasters said another 4 to 8 inches could fall as the storm moves away, with even more possible in some places.
“It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t over,” said Ernesto Morales, meteorologist for the San Juan Weather Service.
He said the flooding had reached “historic proportions,” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across Puerto Rico.
“The damage we’re seeing is catastrophic,” Pierluisi said.
Water supplies have been disrupted for more than 837,000 customers – two-thirds of the island’s total – due to cloudy water in filtration systems or power shortages, officials said.
The National Hurricane Center said Monday night that Fiona’s “heavy rains” would fall throughout the night over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. As of 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time Monday, it was centered about 130 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island and moving northwest at 10 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
Deanne Criswell, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement to CBS News Sunday night that the agency “actively supported” Puerto Rico and “immediately deployed hundreds of FEMA personnel before the storm made landfall.”
“Our focus right now is on lifesaving efforts and responding to immediate needs like restoring power,” Criswell said.
A Biden administration official told CBS News Monday that more than 300 FEMA and federal employees are already in Puerto Rico. These included power restoration experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams.
More federal emergency services would arrive in the coming days, the official said. FEMA is working with Puerto Rico’s power distribution company Luma to restore power to the island and has also deployed generators.
Luma tweeted this on Monday evening it had restored power to around 200,000 customers, including a hospital.
Monday afternoon, President Biden shared a photo of himself on the phone with Pierluisi.
“Today I spoke to @GovPierluisi to address Puerto Rico’s immediate needs in the wake of Hurricane Fiona,” the President said. “We have spoken about federal personnel working to assist in the island’s recovery and I have assured the governor that we will significantly increase assistance in the coming days.”
Before sunrise Monday, authorities navigated the flooded streets of the north coast town of Catano in a boat, using a megaphone to warn people that pumps had collapsed and urged them to evacuate as soon as possible.
At least 1,300 people spent the night in temporary shelters across the island, according to authorities.
Brown water poured into streets and homes and closed airports in Ponce and Mayaguez.
The system also ripped asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police say was installed by the National Guard after Maria hit as a Category 4 storm.
Fiona also ripped off the roofs of homes, including Nelson Cirino’s in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was sleeping and I saw the corrugated iron fly off,” he said as he watched the rain soak his clothes and the wind whip his colorful curtains in the air.
After roaring over the Dominican Republic, Fiona moved into the open Atlantic where she was expected to strengthen, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Fiona had previously hit the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floodwaters washed away his home, officials said.
The system struck Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.